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A Western States for all the ages

Veteran Solheim running for No. 14 while youngsters test themselves on the WS Trail
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Karsten Solheim’s zeal for trail running is making it tough to walk away from the sport, even at age 71. Meanwhile Sabrina Moran and Eric Johnson are hoping they can keep a steady stride as they make youthful debuts on endurance running’s biggest stage. Saturday’s Western States Endurance Run will test the young — as in 21-year-old Moran — and the not so young. Solheim feels like he’s got a leg up on some of the other runners after completing the 100-mile trail run from Squaw Valley to Auburn each of the last 11 years. “I’ve learned how to catch early warning signs with my body,” said Solheim, whose father of the same name founded golf club manufacturer Ping. “I have specially designed shoes to help my knees line up better when I run. Understanding anatomy and making adjustments on the trail is a key for me.” Moran is a senior-to-be at the College of William & Mary. She quit the track team a few years ago after discovering her endurance running talents almost by accident. “I wanted to see how many miles I could do in one week comfortably and I ended up doing 180 miles a week in back-to-back weeks,” said Moran, a native of Vernon, N.J. “I don’t think physically I’m better than anyone, but I just have the mental strength to keep going.” Johnson was a three-time Sac-Joaquin Section meet qualifier as a cross country runner at Del Oro High. An off-the-wall idea for a long run after graduation helped bring his talent to the forefront. “A friend and I were trying to plan a senior trip and we decided we would try to run across Nevada,” said Johnson, a 2001 Del Oro grad. “We recruited two other friends and we ran a relay across the state on Highway 50 – about 450 miles in five days. I was out there and I kind of found my niche. It seemed like my body could just keep going.” Johnson didn’t delve into the world of ultramarathons until last September. He took fourth overall at the Midnight Express 72-mile Lake Tahoe Ultra with a time of 12 hours, 33 minutes. Johnson volunteered as a medical aid at the Rucky Chuck River Crossing checkpoint last year, which inspired him to give Western States a shot in 2008. “I consider myself new to ultras and I’m used to the fast pace — go out there and give it your all,” said Johnson, who ran cross country at Sierra College in 2001. “I’ve had to learn how to hold back and reserve myself at the beginning. I learned that from some of the older guys I’ve trained with.” Solheim knows, perhaps better than anyone, that slow and steady wins the race, or at least finishes with remarkable consistency. The Glendale, Ariz. resident finished Western States less than three minutes ahead of the 30-hour cutoff last year. He was the final official finisher. Solheim, who served as the vice president at Ping for 30 years, didn’t take up running until he was 46. A television special about Western States prompted him to apply for the race and in 1990, he finished the race in his debut. Solheim’s collected 13 silver belt buckles — awarded to official finishers. He’s failed to finish just once. He didn’t believe he’d be back to try for his 14th buckle this year, but the new challenges looming were too tempting. Solheim is attempting to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning — Western States, Vermont 100, Leadville Trail 100 and Wasatch Front 100 — this year. He’s hoping to become the oldest man to complete the grueling foursome of trail runs. “After I finished (Western States) at age 50, I didn’t intend on coming back,” Solheim said. “But I realized I was only 26 minutes behind the age group winner, so I came back the next year and I ended up finishing 10 years in a row in my 60s. Now that I’ve got a streak going, I can’t stop. I tried the Grand Slam last year and I think I can do it this year. I figured if I’m going to do it, I better do it now.” Moran said training at William & Mary is a challenge because there are few hills in historic Williamsburg, Va. “It’s a horrible place to train,” she said. But Western States veteran Ashley Nordell has been a great mentor as she’s prepared for Saturday’s big race and Moran finished the Mountain Masochist Trail Run in Lynchburg, Va. last November in an impressive 8:49. Only three-time Western States champ Nikki Kimball and former WS 100 champ Annette Bednorsky were ahead of her. The third-place finish landed her a spot in the Western States field, where she has high hopes. “I’d like to be in the top 10, but I’ve never run against competition like this before,” Moran said. Johnson has been plagued by an iliotibial band injury that crept up shortly after his 18th place finish at the American River 50 in early April. He admits his youthful ambition may have led to the nagging injury. Johnson hit the trail hard after the AR 50 and logged too many miles in a short period of time. Now an accounting student at Sacramento State, Johnson’s training has seen his training hampered by the injury, but he’s still raring to go on Saturday. “I’m excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there and toe the line. The last couple months have been hard. I’ve never had injuries before. I may be a little under-trained, but I’m going to give it my all.”